Hey there, sorry for the wait

Hey there, sorry for the wait. School's starting. Kaoru presents the last chapter (255, not counting Haru ni Sakura or Kenshin Kaden and Yahiko no Sakabatou etc.) of the acclaimed manga Rurouni Kenshin, authored by, DISCLAIMER, the great Watsuki Nobuhiro-sensei (hence, it's not mine). But you don't want to hear the mundane ramblings of my life, so I'll shut up. I hope you enjoy it!

. . . .

Y E A R S

6. Toward a New Era

"Please, let me through. I'm in the middle of an errand…"

Four Years Later…

Meiji 15 (1882)

Tsubame found herself backing up slowly, until she found herself pressed into a wall. The three men surrounding her, none of them looking particularly well-meaning, closed in slowly, also. "Don't say that…" said the largest of the three, his voice a little too quiet for Tsubame's liking. On top of that, he was holding what looked suspiciously like a concealed sword. "Come with us…"

"Yes, but…" Tsubame began to sweat.

"Tsubame isn't the social type to have friendly chats with goons," said a rather irritated voice behind the man, accompanied by footsteps. "But I'd be happy to chat with you guys."

"Who are you!?" Without bothering to for an answer, the large man turned, unsheathed what was a concealed blade, and brought it down on the speaker's head.

Unfortunately, the speaker wasn't particularly in the mood for this, and instead, the large man found his blade carefully suspended between the knuckles of an angry looking young man. He blinked in surprise, but Tsubame, though also surprised, brightened. "Yahiko-kun!"

The large man and his two friends froze. "The acting instructor of the Kamiya Kasshin-ryuu dojo?!" Yahiko stood, glaring at them, with his opponent's blade still held between his fingers. "Myoujin Yahiko, the one who's caught a thousand blades?!"

"I guess I don't need to introduce myself." Yahiko continued glaring. "What should we chat about?" The three men never answered, because they dashed out into the street. Yahiko sighed, watching them go.

"Wow…" said Tsubame, "Your name and a glare is enough… If must be true when they say you are in the top five in East Japan."

"What? Who the heck said that?"

"That's the word on the street, anyway."

"Well, it's wrong." Yahiko pouted. "My skills are second in Japan (Of course Kenshin's the first)."

"I guess confidence is a good thing…" Tsubame laughed. Yahiko was nearly fifteen now, taller, and cockier. He had outgrown his previous hakama and traded them in for a larger size, along with an open-sleeved gi which carried Aku, the character for evil, embroidered along the hem by special request. Across his back was slung a long wooden bokken.

"By the way," Yahiko snapped suddenly, "Take a look at yourself! When you walk around like that, you're just asking for trouble!!" Tsubame looked down at herself as if she had only just noticed what she was wearing: a western-style dress with a shockingly short skirt and puffy sleeves, accompanied by an apron.

"Oh… But this is the Akabeko's new uniform. It's the selling point this summer."

"That place is getting weirder all the time (Watsuki's taste?)."

"Well… I suppose…" Tsubame laughed. "But thanks for helping me. I'll treat you to a meal at the Akabeko as a thank-you."

"I wish I could, but I have to go to the dojo today. How about after?"

"Okay. What is it? Training as usual?"

"I don't know for sure." Yahiko smiled, proudly. "Kenshin called me in today."

. . T – O – W – A – R – D - - A - - N – E – W - - E – R – A . .

"Hello! Acting Instructor, Myoujin Yahiko, here—"

Yahiko stepped through the door of the Kamiya Kasshin Ryuu Kenjutsu Dojo, announcing his arrival as he entered the front courtyard. But in the next second, he was interrupted by what sounded like loud crying from above. On the roof just above the doorway, a tiny little red-haired boy in lopsided yukata was bawling his discomfort to the world.

"Oh. Kenji. Did you climb up and get too scared to come down again?" Yahiko sighed, taking out his bokken and carefully snagging the back of the little boy's yukata with the tip. He held the boy—now safe and quiet—at arm's length, dangling off the end of his bokken. "Sheesh," he said, "You look like a little Kenshin on the outside, but inside, you are just plain stupid. It's troubling for the successor of Kamiya dojo to be like this—OUCH!!"

"HEY!!"

Again, Yahiko was interrupted, this time as a wooden shoe slammed into the side of his face.

"You're messing with my kid again! I'm going to get mad!!" Kaoru emerged from the dojo, missing one of her geta. Not far behind her, Kenshin also emerged, smiling jovially.

"Who was messing with who!? I saved him!!" said Yahiko, indicating the tiny boy, who was now smiling happily in his mother's direction.

"Oh, really." Kaoru plucked him off of Yahiko's bokken, taking him into her arms. "Aw, it's okay. You must have been scared."

"Apologize to me first!" said Yahiko, indignantly.

"Sorry to have summoned you on such a hot day, Yahiko."

Kaoru had visibly matured—her hair and clothing were simpler, if more elegant, and (well, besides the shoe-throwing) she had effectably developed into the doting mother that little Kenji so loved. But Kenshin, smiling calmly at nothing in particular, had changed little over the years, save for his hair, which was now only chin-length.

"It's no problem." Yahiko, Kenshin, and Kaoru and Kenji entered the dojo. Along the wall once bare, there were now rows of names, written onto wooden panels. Master, Kamiya Kaoru, Acting Instructor(s), Myoujin Yahiko, Tsukayama Yutarou, Students, Shinichi Kosaburou, Higashidani Outa… "If it's about adding more outside teaching, though," continued Yahiko, indicating the wall packed with names, "I can't do any more on my own."

"It's time for a match, Yahiko." Yahiko turned in surprise as Kenshin drew the sakabatou from his belt. "One point match."

"Yahiko." Kaoru said, "Don't you remember what day it is? Your fifteenth birthday. You must have heard of the tradition. In the past, Samurai became adults at fifteen…"

A ceremony called Genpaku. If you plan to be a swordsman, remember it. Yahiko froze, remembering Sanosuke's words so many years ago. I see… Kenshin wants to test me, to see if I have matured. He thought, sweat beading on his forehead. This energy! This pressure! Even though he can't use Hiten Mitsurugi-ryuu any more, he still is the legendary swordsman.

Kenshin's eyes were narrowed slightly into the glare he assumed when fighting, standing relaxed but alert with his hand on his sword, but he spoke gently. "Don't worry. From the time you first chose the path of swords… remember all the battles you have witnessed. The battles you have seen… the battles you have heard… the battles you have fought."

The quiet, precise words sent Yahiko into shock as he remembered the ample violence and exhilaration of those days of battle seething through his memory. From the earliest days he knew Kenshin, to Sanosuke once known as Zanza, to Jin-e and the Oniwabanshu's slaughter at the hands of Kanryuu, to Kenshin fighting Raijuta over Yutarou's body. He had witnessed the terror of Kenshin's hitokiri days come alive as he fought Saitou Hajime, former Shinsengumi and Wolf of Mibu, in a match to the death. Heard the tales of bravery when Sanosuke and Kenshin brought down first Chou, then Anji, Aoshi, Tenken no Soujirou, and finally, Makoto Shishio, on mount Hiei in Kyoto, and himself participated in defending the Aoiya against the fearsome Juppongatana; nearly having met his death at the hands of the giant Fuji, if not for Kenshin's Shishou, Hiko Seijurou. And finally, Yahiko had lived through the very days when all time had seemingly ground to a halt after the tragedy of Kenshin's past had been revealed, Kaoru's violent murder and Kenshin's disappearance, all at the hands of Yukishiro Enishi, Kenshin's brother-in-law. And now, the days of peace, and here stood Yahiko, reliving it all.

"Remember all that you have felt in these battles." Kenshin continued, "Put it in a swords strike, and unleash it."

Yahiko pulled out his bokken, snapping into position with the bokken parallel to the ground. Both locked gazes.

"Kaoru-dono." Kenshin didn't look away from Yahiko, but to his right, Kaoru raised her right hand, Kenji supported with her left. With one swift stroke, she brought it down, and Kenshin and Yahiko flew into action.

After the split second of furious action, the two figures of Kenshin and Yahiko became still. Kenji stared in surprise. After some time, Kaoru spoke up.

"Double hit…?" She said, incredulously. Indeed, Kenshin's sakabatou dug into Yahiko's side, but Yahiko's bokken had fallen at Kenshin's shoulder.

It was Yahiko, however, who fell first, sinking to the floor and clutching the place where Kenshin had hit him, shaking slightly. "Heh…" he said, half smirking, half grimacing. "I can't beat you."

Kenshin sheathed his sakabatou. "Yes," he said with a smile, "But that was a good strike. Can you get up?"

"Yeah. Barely." As Yahiko rose, groaning, Kaoru glanced in Kenshin's direction. He nodded.

"Yahiko."

Yahiko looked up to see Kenshin with his sakabatou, sheathed, held out before him. "Your Genpaku gift. Take it!"

"What…?" Yahiko was shocked again. "Wait…" he said, "Wait a minute. I can't take that! Besides, I lost!"

"Winning or losing wasn't important," said Kenshin, with the sakabatou still extended. "It was whether you struck with your soul. This decision is based on that."

Tentatively, Yahiko extended a hand. "The sakabatou," continued Kenshin, "Is being passed to you." Yahiko took the sword, balancing it in his palm, feeling it's weight, both in it's physical form and in his memories.

"For a while," said Kaoru, "It will be heavy and hard to use… but train yourself to use it to your full extent."

"And one day," continued Kenshin, "surpass this one."

Yahiko smiled, understanding. "Yes!" He bowed his thanks, before dashing out the dojo's door, off to tell Tsubame at the Akabeko, off to prove himself worthy of Kenshin's gift. Kenshin and his little family watched him go.

"This… wraps it up." Broke in Kaoru.

"Yes."

"Are you sad to let go of the sword you held for fifteen years…?"

"A little," said Kenshin, reaching to take Kenji out of Kaoru's arms. "But the feeling of joy overwhelms it, so it's not that bad." He spoke to his tiny son, holding him at arms length. "Kenji. Let's work hard so you can have the sakabatou after Yahiko."

Kenji replied by pulling his father's bangs, and Kenshin laughed. "Oww. When will you get used to this one?"

Kaoru took Kenji out of Kenshin's hands again, watching him fondly. Thoughtfully, she raised a hand to Kenshin's cheek.

"The last time I visited Megumi-san in Aizu, she told me that sword wounds that come with strong feelings… don't fade until the feeling does. Your scar has become much lighter."

Kenshin smiled. Indeed, under Kaoru's fingers, the scar had lightened to a fragile white line. "Yes." Said Kenshin. "Yes, but it will probably never go away. Unable to use Hiten Mitsurugi-ryuu, without the sakabatou… but this doesn't mean this one cannot fight any longer. The life of battles has not been lived out yet. This one will keep fighting under the vow to never kill again."

"Yes." Kaoru smiled thoughtfully. "You're right."

But…

"Kenshin?"

"Oro?" Kaoru took Kenji-chan's hand and patted Kenshin's shoulder with it.

"For now, get some rest."

O - W - A - R - I - - D - E - - G - O - Z - A - R – U - - Y – O

. . . .

I hope you liked it! I really hope you liked it, because I just spent the last hour doing it, it's pretty dang late (I don't really know 'cause the clock on my laptop's all messed up) and I have to get up for school tomorrow (not that early, really, Kaoru's just a lazy bum). Thank you very much for reading, and HUUUGE thank-you's to my reviewers Scarred Sword Heart, OnceInABlueMoon16, and RoseCrystal.

Yawns Yeah, I think I'll get some rest too.